“Vanishing delivery vehicles could extend military and civilian operational capabilities in extenuating circumstances where currently there is no means to provide additional support.”
It sounds like an engineering fantasy, or maybe an episode from Mission Impossible: A flock of small, single-use, unpowered delivery vehicles dropped from an aircraft, each of which literally vanishes after landing and delivering food or medical supplies to an isolated village during an epidemic or disaster. And it would be nothing more than a fantasy, were it not that the principle behind disappearing materials has already been proven.
Building on recent innovations in its two-year-old Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program, which has developed self-destructing electronic components, DARPA today launched ICARUS, a program driven by a vision of vanishing air vehicles that can make precise deliveries of critical supplies and then vaporize into thin air.
“Our partners in the VAPR program are developing a lot of structurally sound transient materials whose mechanical properties have exceeded our expectations,” said VAPR and ICARUS program manager Troy Olsson. Among the most eye-widening of these ephemeral materials so far have been small polymer panels that sublimate directly from a solid phase to a gas phase, and electronics-bearing glass strips with high-stress inner anatomies that can be readily triggered to shatter into ultra-fine particles after use. A goal of the VAPR program is electronics made of materials that can be made to vanish if they get left behind after battle, to prevent their retrieval by adversaries.